De School has quickly become one of the most illustrious clubbing spaces in Amsterdam. Known for its dark dance floor, housing the sounds and the dances of the Friday and Saturday nights, the former school also offers space to a restaurant, a café, a gym and several art projects. Glamcult had a conversation with the club’s main booker, Luc Mastenbroek, and found out why taking as much away as possible is key to De School’s approach to curating a club night, how the venue’s different functions are all related to each other and what curating towards inclusivity means in Dutch club culture.
As an interviewee for our series on Curators, I was wondering, do you consider your function at De School as a curatorial position?
I don’t use the label curator for myself but I do think it represents some of the things I do. In English the label “programmer” isn’t really used in a club context so I call myself the main booker most of the time—although that doesn’t really seem to cover what I do. Very little of my time actually goes into the booking processes. There’s a lot happening in De School besides the music and I try to stay involved with every aspect of it. I hang out at the gym, check out the restaurant and think about ways to improve our cafe. I try to look at De School in its totality: both in the ways we come across to the outside world and in the ways we treat people at the club. I want to know how we can make the club a better place and this involves everything from our door policy to communicating with police and the municipality.
If I understand you correctly, you see your role as a curator almost as a facilitator. How do you put this idea into practice?
Listening! Listening to as many people as possible. I think I spend most of my time on listening to people and I think this is the key to being a good booker. Our security guards, for instance, have access to a lot of valuable information. They have so many interesting things to say about the club and the music, even if they can’t always hear the music. They see how people enter the club and how they exit the club: are they relaxed? How are they treating each other? To me it’s important to know these things and to listen to everyone from our DJs to our bar people to people on twitter.
How do you make sure you implement a certain vision for De School when you get so much input from everyone?
Whenever I hear people speaking of a “vision” it doesn’t really seem to correspond to how I feel. I don’t really have a vision; my idea of a vision has more to do with how you treat people. It has also changed a lot from how I was working when we just opened. My vision now is 100% a reflection of what I hear from other people.
How was this different when De School just opened?
I didn’t know anything when we just opened! I was still studying and I had never been a booker before. I had to find out how to do this job in a few months and I just tried to be as open as possible. When I contacted agents and DJs I just sent them an email saying: “I’m in a very empty and cold old school building right now and we might start a club here but we don’t even know if we’ll get a license yet and I really like this DJ but I’ve never done a booking before so I’d love to hear how this works. But… if it’s not possible I understand completely!”
Of course, De School already had a certain image when it opened. It was hailed as “the new Trouw” and this had an influence on what it means to be able to DJ here. In many ways, this makes your position as a curator into a gatekeeping position. You decide who or what’s ‘in’ and who or what isn’t. How do you consider this aspect of your function?
Because of the hard work people have put into the clubs that came before De School, I’m in the position to book who I feel has a connection to our club, and I don’t take this position for granted. I think you’re right and my position is partly a gatekeeping position. What I try to do is to always be upfront with people. I try to act from a position of trust. Therefore I try not to book someone just one time. I don’t want to create this moment like: “Now you can play in De School and you’re going to have to prove yourself. And if you don’t do that, you can’t play again.”
Most of the time, I already know a second, third or fourth time for someone to play. This feels fairer to me because this means I can communicate a certain feeling of trust that anyone playing here will do very well. I don’t think a part of club culture should be to be thrown under the bus like that. Another thing I try to keep in mind is to book in a way that is representative of the different music genres and cultures of Amsterdam. It can be tempting to work with a certain type of techno that’s big right now but this would exclude many other types of music. That’s an important aspect to me.
When you think of creating a space for those different types of genres, do you also try to bring them together in one night or do you envision separate nights for separate genres?
Ideally they come together on the same night, mostly because this already happens in many ways in Amsterdam. But I think some of that mixture is disappearing. Many of the artists in Amsterdam work outside of the closed corners of a label or genre but clubs and especially festival spaces end up reinforcing the labels. That’s why we try to take as much of this away as we can at De School. We don’t write descriptions for our nights. I actually think descriptions are a really weird thing for a party. Especially seeing how the one thing can be described as “tropical” and the other as “dystopian” and that those terms end up being the barometers of the scene in Amsterdam. It’s strange. I don’t really want to go to a dystopian night… nor a tropical one.
I’m interested in how you contextualize this choice to keep the communication minimal. It seems very straightforward and no-nonsense when you describe it like this, while sometimes as a visitor it can come across as a way to be mysterious.
Yes, I can understand it can come across like this. I guess sometimes we are tempted to play with that. But I think it’s a very important aspect of the club to strip away as much as possible. You can have the best intentions with what you’re saying but anything you say can still be an obstacle. A night shouldn’t be about the text. We don’t do this out of conservatism but out of the belief that fun things will appear on their own. We don’t have to tell people what to expect.
This brings us back to what you said in the beginning of our interview, about viewing De School in its totality and understanding your role as a curator in that context. I was wondering how this connects your view of curating to creating a safe and inclusive space?
I think one of the most important aspects is to be working, in every aspect of De School, with people from diverse backgrounds. There’s about 150 people working at De School and they have all types of ages, different educational backgrounds and they work together very well. I think that anyone who enters our club who is not a white man can enter a space that isn’t occupied by white men at the door, at the wardrobe or at the bar. I hope this means that it’s not a potentially hostile space. And when we refuse larger groups entry at the door this is also a way to ensure safety in our club. Still though, and I think this is the way we should approach it forever, it’s never finished and at this point it’s certainly not enough. We should be aware of the composition of our team (both staff and DJs) and try to make it more inclusive year by year.
That door policy is not always interpreted as an inclusive practice…
No, and I understand that the person who is at the door symbolizes the refusal of certain people. But what that person also does is explain what’s happening inside. And I think that’s an important aspect: to be communicating to clubbers what we are and what we stand for. I have no doubt that there are ways we could be better at doing this but I do think it’s a way to make the club more inclusive. People who are not sure whether this space is for them, people who show up and consider not going inside, the host also takes on a role of getting those people in: to talk to them and to let them know this space is for them too.